Why do we all go left in a westerly anyways?The sun is shining on a warm mid-July weekend morning. The air on English Bay is crystal clear with no hint of haze over Vancouver Island. Some puffy white clouds are starting to form in the east over the valley. You launch your Martin 242, crew bright eyed and ready to race. A dark wind line is already visible in the west promising another great day of racing in a westerly thermal breeze on English bay.
Fresh from re-reading your favourite racing tactics book last night you resolve to take some of the lessons to heart this time out. Foremost - one of the golden rules of sailboat racing – stay in the middle of the course! The logic makes sense. Avoid the laylines at all costs until a few boatlengths to the rounding. It’s difficult to accurately call the layline from far out, so you’re likely to be either overstood or understood at the mark. Even if you manage to optimally tack just a bit below layline sailing upwind, there are very few tactical options once you’re in a corner. In a header boats to leeward will gain and you can’t tack onto the lifted tack anymore because you’re too close to the layline. In a lift you are overstood, so again any boats to leeward will gain because you sailed too much distance by going outside the layline. To make matters worse, if you’re near the port layline rounding the mark in potential sea of boats on the starboard layline will be a nightmare.
You get a great first start in a building westerly, and you elect to initially stay with the pack as they all charge towards the port layline. Several boats overstand the layline by several lengths. The lead boat tacked a bit early and looks to be just below the port layline, but they elect to tack and cover the boats further to the left and overstand with them, surely pure madness! With the wise words of Stuart Walker still ringing in your ears you make a conservative tack well before the layline to stay closer to the middle of the course, keeping your tactical options open. Three quarters of the way up the beat, and much to your chagrin, every boat to the left of you has come screaming down over top of you on a close reach, burying you to yet another mid-pack weather mark rounding. Where did it all go so wrong?
Welcome to the English Bay Westerly. So why do we do it?
Check out Figure 2, below (where’s Figure 1, you ask? Don’t ask.) The westerly thermal breeze tends to fill in in the late morning at around 11 am. It will consistently increase until it hits its maximum for the day at around 2:30 pm. As it fills, it tends to bend onto the south shore. Later in the day, after thermal heating, it will blow more directly down the bay. As the wind builds there may be temporary oscillating shifts but once filled in, the direction seems relatively stable.
So 2 important things:
- As the westerly first fills in, there will often be a big left shift. Left shift = go left. Plus there’s often a distinct line of pressure filling in from the west. It’s always best to be first to the new breeze. New breeze to the left = go left.
- Because of the geography of the shoreline to the south, there is also a persistent geographical back (left shift) as you sail west up the bay, even after the breeze is established. The amount of this back from the leeward to the windward mark can be in the order of 10-15 degrees. Again left shift = go left.
So what happens in the English Bay westerly is the typical “low risk” strategy of avoiding the corners is reversed. It’s often much lower risk to well overstand the port layline, usually the further left you can get, the further ahead you’ll be at the weather mark. Because of this; there are few to no 'passing lanes' so starts and boat speed are at a major premium in a westerly. It often pays to start near the pin even if the boat is favoured by as much as a length or two!
- Late in the day, say around 7-8PM as you’re starting the second beat of the second Wednesday night race, I find the dying westerly sometimes “pumps” north before completely dying. If you’re playing the left as usual one or two boats that decide to take a flyer to the right side of the course can sometimes come out way ahead. The problem is, catching this final shift is Very Tricky, and it’s only sometimes.
- If the westerly is not fully established, or if it’s a non-thermal (system generated) westerly (characterized by more cloudy/overcast or clearing weather), the wind may be more shifty than in a “regular” westerly. It still often pays to go left especially in any kind of flood, but there’s more likely to be a few right shifts that can benefit boats sticking closer to the center of the course.
- One of the few times you can revert to more ‘standard’ racing strategy and make it work in a normal westerly is in a strong ebb, especially out in the middle of the bay away from the south shore. The progressive geographic shift is still a factor, but a strong ebb current can mean an early tack to port even well before the layline can pay off.
Credit: this article draws heavily on the descriptions of Winds and Tides on English Bay originally developed for the 1997 J/24 Canadian Championship at RVYC. Content by Claire Adams, former head instructor at RVYC, with assistance by Past Commodore Don Martin and Peter Chandler from the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Victoria. The graphics were provided courtesy of AREA51 Interactive, a website design company in Vancouver.
Happy New Year! With the change to 2021 we get to embrace a new set of rules for this Olympiad. Not to worry, there are not too many changes that affect us in the Martin fleet everyday races, mostly just clarifications, but there’s a few little changes that are interesting, so you might want to read up…
Here’s a good summary of the changes from 48° North:
‘Official’ World Sailing rule book (free download!):
There’s also a ‘study version’ at this site that makes it easy to see what changed.
Sail Canada prescriptions:
See you in the 2021 protest room! (hopefully not)
Pop Quiz for bonus points:
This flag now means something if flown by a race committee, what is it?
(Hint: it does not mean 'race to the bar for a beer')
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
- Christina Rossetti
As the days grow short and cold, and memories of warm afternoons sailing fade in the distance…here’s some tips on setting up your Martin 242 for winter storage!
1. One of the most important things specific to the Martin242 is taking care of the aft cockpit drain tubes. The “interestingly designed” geometry of these features means that water will pool down in the elbow when the boat is not in the water, which can cause the tubes to crack in freezing conditions. There’s various advanced solutions to this problem involving a lot of glass work to replace the existing tubes, but a much simpler one is to stick some rags in the aft drain tubes to drain water via capillary action.
2. Strip all the ropes off the deck so they don’t get moldy – mainsheet, pole downhaul, vang, cunningham, and traveler are relatively easy. Furling line is a bit trickier because you’ll have to re-wind the furling barrel if you unspool it, you could consider just coiling the end and hanging it off the pulpit to make your life easier.
3. Attach tracer lines to halyards with bowline knots so all the halyards can get sent up the mast and not bang all winter or get as moldy. Also protects them from UV (if the sun ever does come out).
4. Take your sails home to stay dry all winter. For those with living arrangements involving restricted square footage due to astronomical property values in BC, I find under the kitchen table works well. Partners don’t complain too much when you explain the thrill of winning the first race of the season because your sails stayed nice and dry. Life jackets, random hats and gloves kicking around the bilge, expensive GPS instruments – get those off the boat too.
5. If your yacht club or marina allows you to plug in somewhere – a heater and even dehumidifier if possible inside the cabin is great to keep the boat nice and dry inside. Even a low-draw marine fan to keep some air moving is a good option if you don’t want to burn too much power.
6. Take any old gasoline you have lying around in jerry cans & dispose properly. In Vancouver some of the return-it depots will take old gas (in a proper container) and give you a credit to purchase a new jerry can.
7. Run the outboard engine until the fuel line and carburetor are mostly dry (I actually try to do this every time I use the engine so the little bit of fuel doesn’t leak inside the boat). Better if you can take the outboard right off the boat and store it somewhere nice and warm and dry for the winter.
8. Drain the engine carb if possible by loosening off the carb drain screw so the gas doesn't turn to gel and then harden over the winter and gum up the carb: big $ to get it cleaned out professionally (see picture for example, although every engine is probably slightly different).
image credit to practical boat owner
9. Make sure the boat is properly seated on the trailer.
10. Check for leaks during the winter and seal them in the spring or on dry days.
One other option (this is what we do on Back in Black) is to take the mast down, rest it over the pushput & pulpit, and tarp the whole thing.
Our boat has some nagging leaks in a few spots, and there is usually some water that runs down the mast no matter how well you try to seal this up – so this option usually keeps the boat nice and dry. Taking the mast up and down is pretty fast if you use the Fleet 1 gin poles. The other advantage of this method is that you should likely be dropping the mast at least once a year to inspect it and do some maintenance anyways:
- clean it with acetone and rags (shroud wires get coated with gunk all year long, so cleaning the wires once a year with acetone is a good idea so it lessens the streak marks on mainsails)
- check all shackles and swaged ends
- re-tape where required to prevent spinnaker tears
- replace halyards as needed
- check the windex and mast whip
- check the spreader bracket for cracks and if it doesn’t have a bar welded across its front (see item 4 in this bad boy) this is a great time to call on Sandy, the mobile welder (See Buy & Sell page for contact info)
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